“Sorry I dropped you,” I said hastily, relieved she’d followed me even after getting accidentally dumped somewhere. “Hoshi, Aaron is at the guild. I need you to bring him to me.” I squinted, forming an image of the guild and Aaron in my mind, then imagining Hoshi leading him through the alleys to me and Ezra.
Hoshi touched her cool nose to my forehead and the image replayed in my head. The sylph spiraled around me, then sped down the alley like a fluttering blue banner.
Throwing Ezra’s broken phone aside, I pulled off my scarf—his he’d lost during the battle. I wound it around his bleeding arm, then tied the limb against his chest in a sling. He was swaying, so I pulled him over to the wall and sat him against it. He finally lowered his hand from his face. His eye looked normal—as normal as the pale iris ever looked—and I wondered why he’d covered it.
“Hold on, Ezra,” I whispered. “You’ll be okay.”
He smiled faintly and my heart twisted. I tried to check him for injuries, but he was covered in blood—some his, some the thick, crimson-black demon blood.
Forcing myself to breathe deep, I scanned the alley for signs of movement—praying Aaron and Kai were at the guild and would come as fast as they could. And praying the demon didn’t return.
My gaze landed on a dark shape lying on the pavement amidst the splattered blood. For a long moment, I didn’t understand what it was, then I realized it was the demon’s horns—two of the four horns that had risen off its head, shattered at the base. I remembered the bone-like crack before the demon fled.
How the hell had Ezra done that?
Swallowing my questions, I pushed myself up and approached the broken appendages. It took a swift but stern lecture to convince myself to touch them. Gingerly picking them up, I speed-walked down the alley, away from the signs of battle, and shoved the two horns deep into a garbage bin. After replacing the lid, I strode back to Ezra.
He watched me return. Said nothing.
I crouched beside him, took his hand in both of mine, and waited for help to arrive. He closed his eyes, breathing harshly and sagging forward with the passing minutes. Panic swirled through my gut—then I saw the flash of pale blue at the end of the alley. A sinuous shape, accompanied by two human silhouettes.
“Tori?” a familiar voice called, sharp with alarm.
“Aaron!” I screamed. “Over here!”
He and Kai sprinted up the alley, fully geared with their weapons drawn. Hoshi trailed after them. When they reached the frosted ground and saw the battle damage—the dented steel door, cement walls gouged with claw marks—Aaron slid to a horrified stop.
Kai ran straight to Ezra, sheathed his sword in one quick motion, and flicked on the light attached to his vest. As brightness bloomed, Kai pulled the bloody scarf away. My stomach turned over.
A triple line of claw marks raked down Ezra’s arm from bicep to wrist, and even deeper gouges in his leg were leaking blood. Ezra cracked his eyes open, pupils dilated and unfocused.
“Aaron!” Kai barked as he unbuckled his belt. “The others are right behind us.”
Aaron nodded. As Kai slid his belt around Ezra’s thigh and pulled it tight to stanch the bleeding, Aaron raised both hands. Fire burst from his palms. Swirling steam rose from the pavement and the air warmed to a normal temperature.
Four people appeared at the alley intersection.
“Here!” Aaron shouted.
Drew, Lyndon, Venus, and Sylvia ran to join us. Venus dropped to her knees beside Kai, her brown eyes darting over Ezra as she opened her alchemy kit. He’d closed his eyes again, and I was no longer sure he was conscious.
“Good lord,” Lyndon said hoarsely, staring at the damage. “What happened?”
Everyone except Venus, who was pouring a sizzling potion over Ezra’s arm, looked at me. Aaron’s blue eyes were electric in their intensity, and Kai’s dark stare cut with warning.
I understood: No single mythic should’ve been able to fight a demon and survive. Aaron had melted the frost, the same way I had hidden the broken horns. Ezra’s secrets balanced on a blade’s edge and a single wrong word could expose them.
“We were walking back from the bakery,” I said shakily. “The demon showed itself … and chased us.” I gulped down the very real panic rising in me, triggered by the memories. “I sent Hoshi for help, and the demon chased us into a dead end. Ezra tried to protect me but … I think the demon was toying with him.”
I looked at Ezra, slumped against Kai, and lied with all the skill I possessed. “The demon was about to kill him, then it took off. I think it heard you guys coming.”
Drew whirled around in a panicky circle. “Is it that close? Aaron, did you report it?”
As Aaron spoke into the mic on his earpiece, Venus closed her bag. “I’ve stopped most of the bleeding, but if the demon threw him around, he might have internal injuries. Let’s get him back to the guild.”
Drew and Kai loaded Ezra onto Aaron, piggyback-style, and they walked away in a tight cluster. Sylvia pulled me to my feet.
“You did good, hun,” she murmured, patting my arm. “You did good.”
I blinked. Sylvia never said nice things, like … ever.
She kept an arm around my shoulders as we hurried after the others. I glanced back at the caved-in steel door. I’d lied and now I had to hold to that story—but what had really happened? How had Ezra survived the demon’s attack?
And how dangerous were the secrets that he, Aaron, and Kai were so desperate to protect?
“And then,” I said wearily, “the demon flew away. Aaron, Kai, and the others arrived a minute later.”
Cearra, Alyssa, Liam, and Riley listened with expressions ranging from rapt fear to scarcely suppressed disbelief.
“Just like that?” Cearra asked skeptically. “It flew away?”
I ignored her since I’d literally just said that.
Liam adjusted the round sunglasses he always wore. “Why do you think it fled, Tori?”
I’d repeated my story so many times now—to Felix, to Darius, to an MPD agent on the phone, to four GMs from other guilds—that the details came easily. Considering the authoritative positions of the people I was lying to, I couldn’t afford any inconsistencies.
“The demon either decided that killing us wasn’t fun anymore,” I answered, “or it didn’t want a big fight right then. Either way, if Aaron and Kai had arrived a minute later, Ezra would be dead. Me too, probably.”
All five of us glanced across the pub to the healers’ corner. Ezra was stretched out on the second gurney in a weird half-clothed state—one sleeve and one leg of his pants cut off—while the healers worked on his injuries. He’d lost a lot of blood, but the wounds weren’t as bad as they’d looked. Elisabetta had assured me, Aaron, and Kai that he’d be back on his feet in no time.
“You got lucky for sure,” Cearra said, worry softening her normally acerbic tone. “I can’t believe the demon stalked you guys like that.”
“Do you think it followed you into Gastown?” Riley asked, nervously adjusting her hair—a mop of wild brown curls that made mine look tame in comparison. “Why would it do that?”
“If it followed them,” Alyssa cut in shrilly, “does that mean it’s watching our guild?”
The four mythics shifted uneasily. I didn’t comment, but I suspected the same. How else would the demon have picked me and Ezra out of the crowd like that? It must have followed us, but Ezra didn’t sense its movements until after we’d left the chaotic Halloween crowds behind.
Riley’s question was the big one on my mind: Why? Why had the demon targeted us?
“I heard Felix say the police are clearing out Gastown,” Liam said, “but no one’s found any sign of the demon. Do you think it’s watching us again?”
They all shuddered, and I wondered if they wanted to leave. Like me, they’d been stuck in the guild for almost twenty hours now. It wasn’t safe to go out alone, and the combat mythics were too busy hunting the demon to escort them anywhere.
The guild door banged open. Aaron and Kai swept in, an assortment of other mythics following them. Kai tossed me my lost purse, and I gratefully stuffed it on the back counter.
Felix looked up from his computers expectantly.
“No sign of the damn thing,” Aaron told him. “Who knows where it is, and the Keys are making themselves real obnoxious. They’re all over Gastown.”
Felix muttered something foul. “I’ll report to Darius. He and his team are heading back this way.”
The two mages moved toward Ezra and the healers, and I hastened to join them. I slipped between Aaron and Kai as they watched Miles draw a rune on Ezra’s inner forearm. He didn’t have much unmarked skin left—the healers had drawn all kinds of shapes and symbols around his injuries. The gouges from the demon’s claws had healed to thin pink lines, smears of dried blood the only sign he’d been seriously injured.
“Okay,” Miles said. “Time to wake him up. Ori expergefacio.”
The rune shimmered, and Ezra inhaled sharply. His eyes flickered open, bleary and disoriented. Miles and Sanjana helped him sit up, then they fed him three back-to-back potions. He gagged on the last one, spilling the green liquid down his chin.